And the Battle Rages On...
Mark Sanders


Each and every year a firefight commences in Queens, NY. Starting a day or so before the Fourth of July and still rumbling nightly, the rockets red glare accompanied by bangs and pops light up the evening sky. And this happens even though New York state Penal Law section 270 unambiguously makes these displays and the very act of possessing these materials illegal.

This is definitely not the most destructive holiday in Queens. You can't imagine the barrage of eggs that pelts the bus from every street corner on Halloween. I think it is all of the snowballs that hit the bus after the first snow that finally cleans off the residual goo.

My position is hardly holier than thou. As a boy growing up in Mississippi it seemed a state mandated right to not only own but use the largest cache of pyrotechnic materials your family could reasonably afford. I wouldn't be surprised if there had been a state supported grant system to maintain a "respectable" level of blast and flash for all citizens. And let me tell you it sure was fun blowing stuff up.

With names like Black Cat, Jumping Jack, Cosmic Explorer, Snapdragon, Ring-of-Fire, Wild West, Screamer and the ever popular Big Bang it's no wonder pubescent boys wouldn't line up for them. A month before the Fourth of July and New Years Eve the ramshackle shacks would hook up the Christmas lights and fling open their doors. As the nights before the holiday dwindled, the number of cars in the dirt parking lot would grow.

Once at the counter, there was a clear hierarchy of enticement. Closest to the buyer were all the kindergarten poppers, sparklers and other incendiary devices that could only be cool if set off in a mass larger than 100. Under the counter was where they kept the really big quantities (a gross or more) of bottle rockets and fire crackers plus the hefty M-100's. But the back wall, oh the back wall, housed the "professional" caliber shells that were according to the salesman "probably illegal in every state."

Our budget only allowed for at most three of the "professional" fireworks in addition to a veritable arsenal of the smaller crackers. Minutes of careful thought and strategy went into the decision of which to buy. And the risk couldn't be higher since each year the big shells always failed to produce a bang or light show even remotely as glorious as a professional shell. But maybe, just maybe this year it would be different.

After blowing up $50 or so of the lesser fireworks, a reverent quiet would drop over the neighborhood as my father moved forward with one of our 18 inch tall mortars. A safety perimeter was ensured and carefully with a punk the fuse was lit and boy did my Dad get away. In what seemed like a hour (actually 20 seconds) sparks would star fountaining out of the top of the cylinder. And in a mildly ear-aching boom a projectile would be blown into the air. Finally, a daisy shaped fireball 50 feet across would poof in the sky. And that was it!

That's what amazes me about Operation Deserted Street Storm that's waged throughout New York City. Not only is it illegal and very difficult to obtain regular fireworks, but the quality of what they set off is astounding. Several times I've thought that in addition to the normal Macy's spectacular, the Astoria Italian Businessman's Association was hosting their own big blammo. But then the sound of a siren would suddenly cut the show short.

But alas, the supplies are dwindling and the streets will return to quiet. And I guess that gives the enterprising youth a full year to refill the supply depot before next year's celebration.

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